On April 10, the College of Health and Human Services will host the 2015 Community Heroes Awards to recognize the unsung heroes in our community whose actions, thoughts and words have had a transformative power in our region. Our heroes, who represent each of the seven departments and four centers within our college, put others before themselves to genuinely make a difference for the residents of our region. All month long, we will be highlighting our 11 honorees in our Community Heroes Series.
Occupation: Family Medicine Doctor
Nominated by: Department of Public Health
For more than 34 years, Sablan Medical Clinic resided at the end of O Street in the small town of Firebaugh. Memories of the clinic bring about images of a busy and bustling waiting room as patients from all over town would come by for check-ups or emergencies.
This clinic was founded by Dr. Marcia Sablan and her husband, Dr. Oscar Sablan. The two of them saw a need for medical services in the quiet town, with a population of a little over 8,000. They were at one point, the only full-time doctors in town – well respected and trusted by their patients, many of whom came back generation after generation.
Marcia Sablan’s humble beginnings took root in St. Louis, where she joined the Peace Corps in 1968. She was sent to El Salvador to work in a public health clinic for two years. She returned and enrolled in St. Louis University in Missouri, where she met Oscar. They married a few years later.
As a result of her time in the Peace Corps, Sablan returned to the U.S. a changed person. She knew she wanted to help the poor and disadvantaged population. After graduating, the Sablan’s enrolled in the University of Hawaii’s John A. Burns School of Medicine and entered the National Health Service Corps program, which ensured that their last three years of school would be paid for as long as they spent their first three years as doctors working in a community that was lacking in medical providers.
This is how the Sablan’s and their four children ended up in the small town of Firebaugh, a stark contrast from the big city lights of St. Louis. Marcia Sablan worked well beyond her required three years. In fact, she and Oscar ended up staying permanently. They grew to love the city where Hispanics and Latinos made up 90% of the population.
The Sablan’s opened their clinic in 1981. They were more than their city’s healthcare providers. They also acted as public servants, serving their newly adopted town with pride and concern.
However, they wanted to make change beyond the white walls of their medical practice, so they turned to politics. As would naturally happen in a small town where everybody knows each other, they became close to their patients, and saw firsthand the struggles they faced – health challenges, lost jobs, poverty and more. This is what fueled Sablan’s involvement in the Firebaugh City Council, which she has been a part of since 1983.
At one time, she even served as Mayor, in addition to her medical duties. During her time with the city government, she spearheaded the opening of a child-care center and started the local health commission. She helped to get more affordable housing, parks and walking paths for the city. She also played a big role in the development of Rubi Gardens, a home subdivision that is home to mostly Hispanic, immigrant first-time homeowners in north Firebaugh.
She and Oscar founded the Firebaugh Free Christmas Day Dinner eight years ago, which now serves over 500 families annually. They initially started the program after receiving calls on Christmas day from patients claiming to be ill, but it was soon discovered that these individuals were just simply lonely and had no family around. They built this program based on the concept that it would unify the community and ensure access to dinner, toys and winter coats for those in need. It has become a community effort, with local schools, organizations and businesses all pitching in every year to make the event a success.
In addition to serving on the city council, Sablan has also served on numerous Boards of Directors including the American Red Cross of Fresno County and she is also a Commissioner with First 5 Fresno County. She is actively involved with Fresno State’s Health Careers Opportunity Program, which provides resources and assistance to students from economically and/or educationally disadvantaged backgrounds who have an interest in pursuing a career in the health and allied health professions.
For over 30 years, Sablan has served as a model to serving underserved and rural communities, working tirelessly to impact lives through humanity and social justice. She is a hero to her community and a beacon of goodwill to all those she encounters.
The 2015 Community Heroes Awards will be held on April 10, 2015 at Fresno State. For more information on the event, contact Beth Wilkinson at 559.278.3603 or firstname.lastname@example.org or click here.